The territory now embraced in Daviess County was at the formation of the State of Missouri, attached to the county of St. Charles, which included all of the territory lying North of the Missouri River as well as some territory south of the river.
The County of Howard was organized by the territorial legislature in January, 1816, and the present Daviess County was attached to this new county. In 1820 the first State Legislature organized the County of Ray which embraced that part of the State lying North of the Missouri River and west of Grand River.
It was not until 1830, however, that the first white man settled in what is now Daviess County. This territory had formerly been inhabited by tribes of Sacs, Foxes, Pottawatomies and Musquakies and it was not until 1834 that the last Indian camp disappeared. Their last camp was Auberry Grove, north of the present town of Jamesport.
It is said that hunters and trappers had visited this section of the country as early as 1826 but no homes had been built prior to 1830.
Probably the first house in the county was built by John and Mayberry Splawn, who came to the county in January, 1830. The cabin was erected near the present site of the Rock Island depot. The Splawns soon removed east of Gallatin to what is still known as Splawn Ridge.
The third cabin was built by John Tarwater. The Splawns, Tarwaters and Stephen Roberts came in January and February. In the spring James Weldon, Benedict Weldon, Humphrey Best, Daniel Devaul and his son, James R., John Stokes, Christopher Stone and his sons, James, Hardin, Robert and Wil- ham and John Edward followed.
In 1831, many settlers came in. The following settled on Honey and Marrowbone Creeks: Josiah and Jesse Morin, Thomas Edwards, Lewis Linville, Philip Covington and Elisha B. Creekmore. Not far away lived Andrew McHaney and Meriwether T. Green, Jacob S. Rogers, L. Brookshier, William Runnels, Thomas Auberry and William Morgan also came in 1831.
Rogers settled below the mouth of Honey Creek and had a ferry. The others of those last named settled east of the river not far from the Splawns, Edwards and others.
Robert P. Peniston, Sr., and his son, William P. came to the county in 1831. The family had come out from Kentucky the year before and had settled in Ray County. Mr. Peniston, after visiting this county, was so favorably impressed that he decided to locate on the site afterwards known as Millport.
The rest of the family were Robert P., Jr., Thomas, Francis and Theodore. From 1831 to 1833, Benjamin Sampson, Elijah Frost, H. W. Enyart, Benjamin Vasser, William Prewett, Benjamin Burns, Wiley Cope and family, Russell and Solomon Frazier, Jerry Burns and John McCully all settled in what later became Grindstone Township, now Marion and Benton Townships. Adam Black located in Jamesport Township.
The first settlement in Benton Township was in 1833. Benjamin Sampson came from Tennessee and settled on the western side of the township, about a mile from the county line. Later in the year H. W. Enyart came, locating a little over a mile from Mr. Sampson.
During the winter and the following spring Benjamin and Jerry Burns, John McCully, Charles and Isaac Burns and John Githens, all natives of Kentucky, located in the township. Mr. Enyart taught the first school and built the first loom used in the township. Liberty and later St. Joseph were the principal trading points of these settlers.
Colfax Township was first settled by Mormons in 1836. Practically nothing is known of settlements made there prior to 1840. Probably the first settlers after the Mormons were James, Joseph and Edward Wood, all of whom came from Kentucky in 1839. Abner Osborn, from Indiana, soon followed. Benjamin Rowell, from New York, came in 1840 and located on the south side of Marrowbone Creek.
In 1841 John Castor, a soldier in the war of 1812, came from Ohio. He had seven sons, who also became citizens of this township. Other pioneers in this locality were the Kelsos, Rev. Jeremiah Lenhart, Ira Hulette, Luther Cole, Jesse Osborn, and James Drake, all of whom came in 1841 and 1842. Camden was the chief trading point for these settlers, with Richmond and occasionally Liberty receiving a share of the trade.
The first settler in Grand River Township was Solomon Tetherow, who came in the spring of 1831. There is some doubt as to whether Mr. Tetherow or John Splawn built the first cabin in the county. William Bowman, the first sheriff of the county, came a few weeks afterwards.
In 1833 John Tarwater and his wife, Nancy Tarwater, located in this township, but had lived at another point in the county prior to that time. John Martin and his wife came in 1833, Adam Black in 1834, John Roland, Alfred Coots and James O’Dell in 1835. Richmond and Liberty were the chief trading points of these settlers.
1831 marks the first settlement in what is now Harrison Township. Eli Wilson and Benedict Weldon came first, both from Tennessee. Nicholas and Elijah Trosper, Thomas Reed and Manuel Martin, all Kentuckians, came soon afterwards. Obediah Ramsbottom, another of the pioneer settlers of this township, was a native of England.
Jackson Township had as its first permanent resident Robert P. Peniston, who built a cabin there in 1833. Daniel Girdner, John Oxford and Robert McHaney also staked out claims there. All of these settlers were from Kentucky. The first loom in the township was owned by Mrs. John Oxford.
Thomas Auberry was the first settler in Jamesport Township. Prior to his coming to Daviess County in 1834, he had been a resident in Ray County and had laid out the town of Richmond. He is described as being “a preacher, doctor, farmer, horse-trader, horse-racer, surveyor,” and “could play at cards so as to come out ahead about as often as his opponent.” Settlers came slowly to this section of the county; they preferred the timber to the prairie.
In 1837 and 1838 a number of Virginians came: James Callison, Richard Hill, John McClung and Robert Miller. Also Isaac Jordin, James C. Hill and others came within a short time. Jefferson was one of the first townships to attract homeseekers. Anderson Smith, a native of Tennessee, and his wife came from Clay County in 1834. Judge Henderson and John Owings, came the same year. During the next two years John Higgins, Elijah Armstrong and Wiley Cope, all from Tennessee, became residents of the township.
William M. Prewett and John Smith were the first settlers in Liberty Township. They came in the spring of 1834. H. W. and Elisha Creekmore, Tobias Miller and T. P. Gilreath came a few months later. All but John Smith were Kentuckians, although several of them resided in other counties in Missouri before coming to Daviess County.
During the first two years the settlers had to go to Richmond or Liberty to have their grain ground. A few years later a mill was built on the border of DeKalb County and the longer journeys were no longer necessary.
Lincoln Township was settled comparatively late, John Williams, who came in 1837, being the first resident. Mrs. Sarah Williams soon settled in the same section. Reuben Macy and Thomas Brown followed in 1838. All came from Kentucky. Peter Bear, a native of Ohio, came in March, 1839, and John Mikels, a native of Kentucky but for a time a resident of Indiana, come the same month. Other pioneer settlers were William and Berg Shirley, from Indiana, Jacob Brown, from Ohio, and Joseph Everly, originally from Pennsylvania but more recently a resident of Indiana.
David and James Brown came to this county in 1832 and settled in what later became Marion Township. Ebenezer Fields, Thomas Pennington and a few others came in 1833. Before 1838 Rebecca Clevenger, David Groomer, Taylor McCulley, William Roper and Elijah Frost had become residents of the township. The majority of these settlers came from Kentucky. Asa, Ross and Henry Vanover, also from Kentucky, came in 1838. Mrs. Rebecca Clevenger and Mrs. William Roper were especially noted for their skill in weaving.
Many of the early settlers of Monroe Township have already been mentioned. Hardin Stone, Samuel McDow, John Stokes, and William Stone came in 1833. The next year Andrew McHaney, M. Wilson, T. B. Blakely, George Hemry, B. Osborn, Elijah Foley, William Splawn and others arrived. The Stones were from the Carolinas, McHaneys from Virginia and the Stokes from Kentucky.
The first residents of Salem Township were Jonathan and Alexander Liggett, natives of Tennessee, who came in 1837. A short time later Aurelius Richardson, A. G. Dergin and Matthew Harboard settled in the vicinity of where Coffey is now located. John Severe came in 1841 and built a water-mill at the Rocky Ford on Cypress Creek.
In 1833 James McCreary preempted a piece of land in what is now Sheridan Township. E. Mann and several others whose names are not known, came the same year, Isaac Splawn, Benjamin Rowell, E. Kelso, Charles McGee, Nathan Marsh, Anthony Mullins, E. Hulett, and A. McMurtry came the following year. In 1840 the McMurtrys, John, Joseph, George and Samuel, brothers of A. McMurtry, came from Tennessee. George and Reuben Noah, from Ohio, became residents the same year. Richard Woodress, Dr. Samuel Venable, Thomas Kries, were also among the 1840 immigrants.
The first settlement in Union Township was made in 1831. In 1830 a hunting party from Ray County made up of John Stone, John Stokes, Daniel Devaul, Wyman Vanderpool, Thomas Linville and two others, had been so well pleased with the country that they staked out claims in 1831. The Splawns, Creekmores, Penistons and others came in 1831, 1832, and 1833.
Millport was located in Union Township, and as a trading center tended to attract residents to that section of the county. The location of the county seat in Union Township also tended to give it a lead. Other settlers who came prior to 1840 were John A. Williams, Thomas W. Jacobs, Thomas Clingan, William C. Atkinson, Jacob Stollings, Lewis J. Dodd, Philip Covington, and Marshall K. Howell.
John Williams, a native of North Carolina and James Munn, of Kentucky, settled in the northern part of Washington Township in 1836. D. Nelson Foster and his wife came in 1838 from Franklin County, Indiana, and William Taylor from Kentucky.
A glance over the first few pages of this chapter shows that the overwhelming majority of the early settlers were from south of the Ohio River and of the Mason and Dixon line. A few were from Indiana and Ohio, but practically none were from New England or the Central Atlantic states.
Upon examining the sketches of pioneers written by John F. Jordin in his “Memoirs,” all except one of the subjects came from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The McCues, Prices, Jordins, Surges, Gillilans, Hills, Drummonds and Callisons were from Virginia; the Blakelys, Penistons and Ballingers from Kentucky, the Oxfords from North Carolina, and the Dinsmores from Tennessee.
At a later date the character of the population became more cosmopolitan. In the history of the county published in 1882, sketches of 395 Daviess County citizens are given. Classifying them according to the place of birth, the following is obtained.
- Missouri 79, or 20%
- Virginia 74 or 18.98%
- Ohio 55, or 13.94%
- Illinois 40, or 10.12%
- Kentucky 33, or 8.36%
- Indiana 23, or 5.82%
- Foreign 19, or 4.89%
- Pennsylvania 16, or 4.05%
- Tennessee 14, or 3.55%
- Maryland 10, or 2.53%
Five were from Vermont, three from Wisconsin, eight from North Carolina, four from New York, four from Iowa, one each from Alabama, Delaware, Michigan, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Mississippi, two from New Jersey. Of those of foreign birth, nine were from England, four from Canada, five from Germany, four from Ireland, and one from Scotland.
By taking the same group and eliminating those who came to the county after 1860 a much larger percentage is found to have come from the Southern states. Of the 395, only 192 came to the county before that date and the chart then stands:
- Virginia 55, or 26.65%
- Kentucky 26, or 13.52%
- Ohio 26, or 13.52%
- Indiana 20, or 10.41%
- Tennessee 11, or 5.72%
- Missouri 17, or 8.85%
- North Carolina 9, or 4.69%
- Pennsylvania 3, or 3.65%
- Illinois 7, or 3.65%
- Maryland 6, or 3.13%
In the latter group nearly 54% were from the Southern states as against 37% in the first group. In neither group was an attempt made to separate residents from Virginia and West Virginia. Most of them came before the separation of West Virginia, and the biographies frequently did not state the location in the state from which the subject came.
It is interesting to note that a great many of those who were born in Ohio and Indiana were of Virginia stock. The parents came from Virginia, stopped in one of these states for a number of years, and then moved on to Missouri.
While the 395 used as a study was only a small part of the population, it is probably large enough to be fairly representative of the county. A similar study now would probably show a larger percentage born in Missouri, and a greater number born in the adjoining states of Illinois and Iowa.
HISTORY OF DAVIESS AND GENTRY COUNTIES, MISSOURI. DAVIESS COUNTY BY JOHN C. LEOPARD AND BUEL LEOPARD. ILLUSTRATED. HISTORICAL PUBLISHING COMPANY, TOPEKA-INDIANAPOLIS. 1922